Parental Baggage, Literally

A lot comes with a family and, as we age, this can literally mean having to deal with the literal, physical shit that your family has.

Often, this stuff is worthless. Fancy our lower-to-middle class selves owners of small kingdoms, we unfortunately are rulers of consumerist shit piles, of things that no one wants and no one needs: we are constructing ourselves through wasteful, needless, unnecessary objects.

If you need proof of this, look to your parents. Look at their storage units. Look at the path of stuff they drag around. I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit as I know a handful of Baby Boomer (and beyond) people who live great lives but have a cloud of stored away stuff and borderline hoarder clutter cascading behind them: this, clearly, is an American-made problem that – Like cars. – is illustrative of wasted money, wasted resources, and wasted space.

As if on cue, the New York Times is on the case with a brilliant story exploring the literal baggage of our parents.

The competitive accumulation of material goods, a cornerstone of the American dream, dates to the post-World War II economy, when returning veterans fled the cities to establish homes and status in the suburbs. Couples married when they were young, and wedding gifts were meant to be used — and treasured — for life.

“Americans spent to keep up with the Joneses, using their possessions to make the statement that they were not failing in their careers,” wrote Juliet B. Schor, the Boston College sociologist, in her 1998 book, “The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need.”

But for a variety of social, cultural, and economic reasons, this is no longer the case. Today’s young adults tend to acquire household goods that they consider temporary or disposable, from online retailers or stores like Ikea and Target, instead of inheriting them from parents or grandparents.

This represents a significant shift in material culture, said Mary Kay Buysse, executive director of the National Association of Senior Move Managers, a professional organization of moving specialists who help older people downsize.

This, clearly, is a problem that hopefully will go unrepeated as we age and as future generations rise: we can only hope that the Boomers are the end of the waste boon.

The story strikes very close to home for me – And likely for you. – as we live in an age where those who had some modicum of financial security and space (Our parents.) have ended for us (Millennials, maybe Gen X). This represents a unique cultural fracture and a wakeup call for the older: your shit is shit. You cannot Antiques Roadshow your shit to a better place: no one cares, not even your next of kin.

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